I am a teacher, but I feel very uncomfortable standing in front of a group of people and speaking to them for a long time. I have always had stage fright, and I still feel it a little when I am standing up there and I suddenly become aware that all my students are staring at me. Of course they are – I am the teacher. But it makes me feel weird to be the center of attention all the time.
This probably seems like it would be a deficiency for me as a teacher, since I have to stand up in front of people and speak all the time. However, I think it has actually caused me to be a better teacher. I think it is a good thing if teachers feel that standing in front of our students and speaking for long periods of time is just weird. It is weird. I don’t understand how people can do that. I don’t think that is the way to be a great teacher.
I don’t feel comfortable unless my students are involved in the lesson. I rarely let myself indulge in long monologues. Every once in a while, I can’t resist telling them about something I find interesting; I might stumble onto a topic related to something I can just go on and on about (usually a language-related topic – I am a huge grammar/linguistics nerd), but even though passion for a subject is the key to attracting students’ attention, I know that there will always be a student who begins to zone out after a certain amount of time. So when I find myself going off on that tangent, telling them this really cool story about this really interesting topic, I make sure that I see an end point to it. Otherwise, I am sure I will lose some of them, no matter how interesting I think what I am talking about is.
My natural discomfort with being the center of attention has made me a better teacher – I know it has. Instead of telling students what I think they need to know, I use questions to guide them to the answers they come up with. Sometimes they make their way to the answers I myself have to the questions – sometimes they find their own answers. So often, they come up with ideas that I never considered. I use big questions all the time as the starting point of my units and I always come back to them throughout to find out what new ideas the students have.
I’ll admit it, I love having my students do group work. I know some people hate doing group work. But if you think you don’t like group work, it is probably because you got stuck in a group with people who didn’t really want to do the work, or maybe it was because the teacher was using group work to avoid having to actually do any teaching. For group work to really be effective, the teacher has to do a lot of planning and guiding before and after the students are in groups. I never send my students into groups and then just leave them to it, and stay up at the front doing my own thing. I always walk around and listen in and interact with them as much as I can. But I also keep my distance when I see that they would feel uncomfortable with me butting in. The fact of the matter is, we are a social species. Our progress as a species has been because of our collaboration. No man is an island. We have made it to where we are because we have stood on the shoulders of giants. Students need to practice working in groups because this is how great ideas are born. I believe that much of education should be collaborative. Group-work provides opportunities for greater learning.
Now that I have become more versed in the language of education and theories of learning, I realize that there are many teaching strategies out there that promote the style of teaching that I embrace. For example, I was doing project-based learning units with my students before I had even heard of PBL. But when I found out about it, I realized that there was a whole philosophy for this type of teaching, and teaching strategies like PBL embrace that philosophy.
Of course, I heard about cooperative learning when I was working towards getting my teaching license. It is a common term used for group work. But I think my style of teaching is more than that. It is a fundamental belief that my role is as a facilitator, as a mentor. But I am not a star. I am not a celebrity at the center of attention, with all eyes on me. I want to help promote deeper learning in my students by designing memorable learning experiences through experiential learning, through interaction with peers, through inquiry. This is what I love about teaching. I love watching them in action. When I can walk around the classroom and see learning happening in every direction, I feel satisfied.
It is my personal opinion that if you are standing in front of a class full of students and you suddenly realize that all eyes are on you and that you are talking and they are listening and it just feels weird… well that is the right feeling to have about that situation. Direct instruction has its place in education, of course. But I promise you, if you are speaking for more than ten minutes without stopping, somebody is zoning out…..